A Clockwork Orange (Theatre)

Anthony Burgess' classic dystopia features Alex, whose hobbies include rape, ultraviolence and Beethoven

June 22, 2010
Burton Taylor Studio, 21-22 June 2010
Come, join me my droogies and together we shall descend into a world of blood, savagery and ultra violence. A Clockwork Orange does not make easy watching, but for those with the bottle for it a feast of fine acting and the darkest of humour awaits.

A Clockwork Orange is very, very nasty. It revels in it. Every one of the characters is a nasty piece of work, especially Alex, our main character. He is not only very nasty, but is also a completely miserable wretch and a perfect vessel for suffering. So yes, come spend an hour in his company why don’t you! I’m sure it will be delightful.

Right, now that we have filtered out the faint of heart we can get down to the details. I thought that this performance was a very good one. The dirty and degraded feeling of the film (I’ve not read the book, to my shame) was distilled admirably into this short piece of theatre, with special mention having to go to Robinson, playing Alex, and Passe and Ritcherdson, playing his fellow gangmates. All managed to keep up their revolting characters with a constant stream of small ticks and mannerisms that hinted at their instability, even when they were not busy hurting and raping everything.

The language of Nadsat (a strange hybrid of English, cocky rhyming slang and Russian) was delivered naturally and with no hesitation, and interestingly, lines seemed to lend themselves to an almost Shakespearian delivery. I wasn’t sure if that was intentional or not, but it added quite a nice pretentious twist to our villainous characters. The only flaws in the performance were a few of the ‘normal’ lines that were somewhat wooden, but since the majority of the play was spent in very convincing depictions of suffering and being generally horrid to one another this was hardly a problem at all.

March 5, 2009
O'Reilly Theatre, Keble College, 4-7 Mar 2009
This playscript version by Anthony Burgess of his now-notorious novel comes in at 1 hour 30 mins and is played without an interval and in the round (or rather, square) in the subterranean O'Reilly Theatre.

Each of these bald facts has a bearing on the audience's appreciation of the piece. The Stanley Kubrick 1973 film which was withdrawn from general viewing for 26 years has rather hijacked public perception of the material, and it was good to visit Burgess rather than Kubrick's take on Burgess.

The director, Chelsea Walker, emphasizes the possibilities in the material for physical theatre, perhaps thereby somewhat downplaying the sociological and political themes of the phenomenon of violence in our society. The play invites us to think about the extent to which society should be able to protect itself from individuals who express individual choice and liberty in anti-social ways - and what more timely when the perceived threat from terrorism may not be altogether unwelcome to those who wish to concentrate power at the centre of our body politic..

We are greeted in the claustrophobic theatre space by motionless bowler-hatted gang members who soon spring into life as they threaten and then fight for the sheer hell of it, driven on by arcane language and rituals of their own. I felt for Emily Precious, playing two of their female victims, as she was twice left breathless and sprawling from the abuse in the opening 15 minutes. The production thereafter keeps up non-stop, violent, naturalistic action that never seeks to cloak itself in stylisation, but plays out within touching distance of the spectators and is interrupted by no interval. This closeness does, though, magnify the high sound levels - many of the players need at times to reach for the soft pedal..

The director has a keen eye for the striking image - the chief hooligan/victim Alex is wrapped and unwrapped mummy-like following his aversion therapy, finally emerging as though a butterfly from a chrysalis in spring. The cast of 11, all but Jacob Taee as Alex taking multi-parts, shine in their diverse, muscular roles. As well as Emily Precious, I would especially mention the other female actor, Anna Fox, who demonstrates an excellent range, not least as an alluring stripper. As Alex, the fresh-faced Taee who strangely bears a passing resemblance to Malcolm McDowell in the film, is on stage throughout and carries us with him as he passes plausibly from hyperactive psycopathy to retching victim.

Not a comfortable experience, but an energizing one.

January 24, 2006

Old Fire Station Theatre, 24 - 28 January 2006 
Carte Blanche in association with Black Box and the Experimental Theatre Club

This stage version of Anthony Burgess's infamous novella is based on the adaptation Burgess wrote after the film's release ("to cease the flow of bastardized Kubrickian stage versions"). Perhaps inevitably, this brings with it something of the didactic, a cloying and rather disturbing epilogue, and repetitious monologues that ram home Burgess's message. Wherein lies the problem with 'A Clockwork Orange' in the 21st century. In a world where real-life uses and abuses of aversion therapy are well documented, and all the utraviolence we can stand is just a websearch away, its philosophy looks antiquated, and the violence exhibited by individuals and the state unimaginative and tame. Nevertheless, Carte Blanche (a student group with a background of modern musicals) present the play with experimental fervour, opting for a plain black set with UV picking out details on the costumes and set, and action delivered in a combination of chant, modern dance, physical theatre (with the exception of a few simple props, all furniture, doors, lifts etc. are represented by the actors), as well as brief musical numbers edged with uneasy humour. During the more violent set pieces, the set is ritually spattered with paint, an old-fashioned strobe (this is not a play for epileptics) stands in for the terrible films Alex (Ben Hunt, in a distracting wig) is shown, and the action is, as a rule, stylised almost to abstraction. The actors (all credited simply as "ensemble") attack their multiple roles with enthusiasm, but expect neither the dandyism of the film nor the cultural melting pot and moral ambiguity of the books; the costumes are simple linen affairs, the fast-patter Nadsat (Burgess's retro-futurist argot) is lavishly footnoted in the text as well as thoroughly interpreted by song-and-dance routines, and the action is self-consciously theatrical, artificial and symbolic.
This show made me feel incredibly uncomfortable from start to finish - but that was the whole point. This is not a show for people who want to sit back and relax for an hour. It’s violent, aggressively participatory, and extremely disturbing. I sat in numb horror as Kate Whitlow portrayed the terrified rape victim at the opening of the play, I winced at each punch, kick and stab (despite the fact that some of the fights were very close to the audience, and it was quite clear that the stage punches were not contacting - somehow this didn't matter), and I cried as Alex was subjected to a conditioning technique far more horrible than I ever thought possible (and I've seen the film!).

Early concerns that the play was too ‘studenty’ were quickly allayed. Director Lauren Caddick has clearly done all she can to steer away from the film and create something original. I never thought these characters would have the depth and emotional intensity portrayed on stage this evening.

The set was minimal, as was lighting and sound, but the overall effect was incredibly accomplished. The play is not perfect however. Jim Kelly seemed to falter in his role as Mr Deltoid, his energy sometimes lacking, however other cast members certainly made up for that, particularly Mr Zakk Robinson as Alex, who gave a powerhouse performance worthy of someone of twice his years. The script itself was strangely written, though the performers did a great job of working with the Nadsat text to create an honest and believable performance.

Keep an eye out for Cable Tie Theatre Company in the future. This young company is definitely going places.
It must be difficult for a young company to take on such an iconic story, and standing in the foyer of the Burton Taylor Studio I know I wasn’t alone in expecting to see a play involving bowler hats and ‘singin' in the rain'. However, as I was led up the stairs and thrown into a terrifying and exciting world, I soon realised that any preconceptions I had had already been left at the door.

A Clockwork Orange felt raw, fresh, exciting, and utterly absorbing. Cable Tie Theatre company used their small cast to absolute perfection. The movement between characters and scenes were compelling, with simple costume changes and great performances all the clues required to signify a character change.

Most performances were strong, the energy constantly high, and the comic timing a surprise and delight. While at first I was put off by the lack of physical change in the actors as they changed characters, as well as the lack of verisimilitude in the set, Alex’s world was soon painted around me with simple but effective techniques. When not performing, droogs sat amongst us in the audience, talking to us between scenes and even pulling a few audience members up for cameo roles!

While I enjoyed all the performances, I couldn’t talk about this show without singling out our little droog Alex. Zakk Robinson played Alex with confidence, grace, and absolute strength. His performance felt like a constant assault on the audience. A truly dangerous creature with a penchant for classical music and an incredible range of barely restrained emotion, his journey from animal, to broken man, to repentant adult was a beautiful and unexpected surprise. Certainly the best performance I’ve seen at the Playhouse this year.

Anyone that thinks the film is the definitive version of this story should go and see this show. It’s sometimes rough around the edges, its immersive style jarring at times, but my god it’s well performed. Lauren Caddick has managed to get a stellar performance out of the young cast, and for that alone it’s worth a look.

For me, the definitive moment of this production was the speech of the Minister of the Interior (or inferior - no one could ever really decide). He shook each of our hands with a warm smile and proceeded to describe the utter success of the Ludovico technique. Behind him, Alex shuddered and wept in utter despair.
This first offering from 'Cable Tie' Theatre Company was an outstanding modern interpretation of the Burgess classic. From the outset, the audience were made to feel involved, uncomfortable and, at times, threatened in the fast-paced, dark and violent world of Alex and his Droogies. Powerful performances were delivered by all members of the young cast who showed exceptional energy, versatility and emotion throughout the 90 minute performance. If this is the standard of their first venture as a new Theatre group, I look forward to what the future holds for them and wish them all the luck in the world. Look out for them!
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